Getting to free-throw line, becoming better playmaker tops Harrison Barnes’ to-do list this season

DALLAS — He took a quantum leap in his career during his first season with the Dallas Mavericks, leading the team in scoring while taking the offensive burden off of 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki’s broad shoulders. Now, the Mavericks hope to see versatile forward Harrison Barnes continue to progress as a player by attacking the basket more this upcoming season.

Seeing Nowitzki sidelined for 25 of the Mavericks’ first 30 games last season due to a right Achilles strain, Barnes quickly assumed the role as the team’s No. 1 scoring option after signing a reported four-year deal worth $94 million last summer. The 6-foot-8 Barnes then put up career-high numbers nearly across the board, averaging a team-best 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game during his 79 appearances. However, the 25-year-old admits that he can be even more effective this season by attacking the rim more. Barnes now says he hopes to grow as a playmaker, leader and efficient scorer while getting to the free-throw line with more regularity this season.

“You know, you realize it’s not just about scoring. You know, in order to be a leader, yes, you’ve got to go out there and produce. You have to lead by example, but it’s the other things, too,” Barnes explained. “It’s using your voice, it’s the example that you set and the precedence that you set. So, some of the biggest things that I learned throughout last year while kind of growing is that the ball is going to be in your hands more, but also it’s the responsibility of trying to take over a team.

“It was great. I mean, any time a coach tells you, ‘We need you to shoot to win,’ I think every basketball player is like, ‘Cool. I’m OK with that.’ From that prospective, it was good. But from a basketball standpoint, winning and losing is in large part affected by you from the fact of being consistent. That was a main thing that Dirk really helped me with and helped me get better at. Getting to the free-throw line is obviously a big part of this next season, which is something I didn’t do well last year. So, it’s great to have that confidence, to have that ability and to have that freedom. But at the same time, you have to be efficient with it.”

Connecting on 46.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc, Barnes led the Mavs in scoring 37 times last season after doing so with Golden State just six times in 307 games during his first four years in the NBA. He also set a new franchise record by reaching double figures in the first 43 games to begin his tenure in Dallas, becoming the focal point of the offense in the process. But after Barnes’ 25.5 percent usage rate ranked just 54th in the league during the ’16-17 campaign, he could be asked to do much more this upcoming season.

Barnes connected on a career-best 86.1 percent from the free-throw line last season, which was 10 percentage points higher than the previous year when he was with the Warriors. However, he attempted just 3.6 free throws a game last season, ranking 60th in the league in that category. That said, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle believes Barnes could be much more effective this season simply by getting to the charity stripe more frequently.

“Well, we’re encouraging him to be a ball-handler in transition,” Carlisle said while speaking on Barnes’ growth this offseason. “We’ve told our guards basically that if he’s in the middle, hit him. Even at the three or four position he can handle it and make plays, and that’s a good situation for him to attack and possibly get to the free-throw line a little more than last year. He’s going to be in more pick-and-rolls this year, for sure. He’s worked on it. With him as the handler at four and also the handler at three with a five man, those are going to be situations where he can cause problems.”